Trips to Puerto Rico, Say the Word and We Go

Itinerary:

  • Thursday: Fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico
  • Friday: Beach day and night out in San Juan
  • Saturday: Pool day and evening kayak trip in bio-luminescent bay
  • Sunday: Fly back to Atlanta

Dates: July 20-23, 2017

Our Odyssey:

Tim and I flipped a coin and it landed in Puerto Rico. Two weeks later on a plane from Atlanta, we did too.

In our very structured lives, where our work travel (and therefore, our weekend travel) is booked at least a month in advance, deciding to go to Puerto Rico with 2 weeks of lead time was very spontaneous for us. We had originally been planning to go to Charleston, South Carolina that weekend with my mom and brother,  but had to reschedule due to Travis’ university orientation schedule. Since this meant Tim and I needed to change our flights anyway, we decided to make it a relaxing getaway weekend. Work has been really busy for both of us lately, and while we always savor being home in Madison, the idea of escaping somewhere where we could just sit in the sun compelled us to write a short list (it came down between the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico) and then flip a coin for it.

We arrived late Thursday evening and headed straight from the airport to our lodging. We stayed at the Caribe Hilton hotel just outside of Old San Juan using Tim’s rewards points. It was a decidedly fancy hotel, something we don’t typically treat ourselves to, so when we checked in we immediately set out to explore the property. The hotel has several pools, an abundance of lounging areas, hot tubs, a private swimming cove, hammocks, a swim up bar and restaurant, and a garden. In the garden, we were admiring the koi in the pond, and when we turned around we were startled to be face to face with a large female peacock perched on top of the railing. We would later discover that this garden was home to many more peacocks, ducks, geese, swans, iguanas, other lizards, and turtles! Near the garden was also an old historical fort looking out over the ocean. The whole place truly couldn’t have been any more unique.

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Me and Tim in front of the old fort at our hotel

Friday morning we got up leisurely and I headed to the fitness room to run 6 miles on the treadmill (I’m currently training for a marathon), and motivated by the gorgeous ocean view and my desire to get outside to lay by the ocean with Tim, I ran my fastest ever 6 miles (just under 59 minutes), all while getting watch lizards and iguanas shuffling across the grass and pavement through the window.

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Tim in the garden with one of the iguanas

After my run I joined Tim at the circular platform over the water to relax on cushioned day beds. We made this our base for napping, reading and then a quick swim in the bathwater-warm cove before then heading on a walk throughout the grounds and garden (to see all the animals!). When we got hungry we grabbed two stools at the swim up bar and ordered drinks and lunch. Our 5-beer bucket of Medalla (local beer) actually came with 7 and by the time we finished them off we were tipsy, happy, and a little sunburnt. Which meant it was a perfect time for an afternoon nap!

We did venture away from our resort that evening to walk around old San Juan and get dinner. We got a taxi from our hotel (even though it was walkable – but this was meant to be a lazy vacation) to the Castillo San Cristobal right at the entrance to the old town. This castle fort overlooking the ocean guarded the port of San Juan in the 1700s when the island was under Spanish control. Today, it makes up part the San Juan National Historic Site (part of the United States’ National Park Service). Walking around this fort and the walls reminded me so much of the Castillo de San Pedro we visited in October 2016 in Santiago de Cuba (which, I should note, was my favorite single site in Cuba).

 

We then meandered the streets of the Old Town, admiring the colorful buildings and the cats that call these streets home. The story of the cats of San Juan is an interesting one. They were originally encouraged on the island to combat the rat population and keep the city clean, but over time the population has grown out of control. In order to give these feral felines a higher quality of life and manage the exploding numbers, a group on the island has developed a process to tag, spay/neuter and immunize all the cats. The cats live out a happy life roaming the city walls, and the city isn’t overrun with cats. The numerous cats have access to handful of food/water stations scattered around town, particularly along the city wall, and that is why we saw upwards of 30 cats that evening during our walk. I was pretty happy about all the great kitty viewing!

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One of the cats who actually let me pet them!

Before stopping for dinner we also visited El Murro, which is another castle/fort overlooking the bay, and the Casa Blanca (White House) which was the family home of the 16th century Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon. For dinner we opted for a small restaurant near some bars that offered mofongo (mashed plantains), a delicious local specialty, and then ventured out to find a bar for a few drinks. We ended up at a small pub with great people watching where we had a few beers and played cards. We stopped at a few more bars before getting tired and calling it a night. One thing we both noticed is that the structure of the bars here was very similar to the ruins pubs of Budapest, where old apartments are gutted and repurposed to be a bar with kitschy décor and dim lights.

We spent the next day much like we had our first day – lounging around the pool, enjoying a drink, and napping.

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A little bit of paradise

That evening we had an excursion out to the far eastern part of the island, where we kayaked out to a bay known for its bioluminescence. The glowing blue water is caused by micro-organisms called dinoflagellates that react to movement in the water (such as a hand or a kayak paddle). This was my first time kayaking in the dark, and it was really cool even without the bio factor to kayak through the mangroves on our way to the bay. Once in the bay, we were able to see the bioluminescence really clearly with each stroke of the paddle; however, it was faint. Our guides explained that the organisms had declined in recent years, and while they are making a resurgence, they are well below their former levels.  It was still a very worthwhile experience, especially since we really like kayaking anyway.

We didn’t get back to our hotel until after midnight, and had an early alarm set for our 7am flight back to Atlanta. Though brief, our weekend getaway was a perfect escape to decompress, and now we know with even more conviction that there is so much more to see and explore on this island and we will definitely be going back!

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